2020: The year OTT went mainstream

How a combination of low-cost mobile data, affordable smartphones, fresh content and lockdown induced boredom changed the game for OTT industry in the pandemic year

e4m by Javed Farooqui
Published: Jan 4, 2021 8:30 AM  | 10 min read

    2020 was the year when over the top (OTT) platforms, both SVOD and AVOD, truly become mainstream. Unlike in the previous years, the original shows on OTT platforms generated a lot more buzz in the lockdown as TV broadcasters were still recovering from the disruption caused by the pandemic.

    With people confined to their homes, the OTT platforms made heavy investments to ensure a steady flow of original content for their users. Shows like Scam 1992 (SonyLIV), Paatal Lok (Amazon Prime Video), Special Ops (Disney+ Hotstar), Flesh (Eros Now), and Asur (Voot) kept the audiences hooked on to the OTT platforms.

    In their quest for fresh and differentiated content, many TV viewers sampled OTT content as broadcasters were airing re-runs of old shows due to a halt in shootings. With theatres and multiplexes remaining closed for many months, film producers made an audacious move by releasing their films first on digital.

    2020 also proved that there is a market for subscription-led OTT as SVOD platforms witnessed a surge in paid subscribers. On the other hand, AVOD platforms were not able to monetise the viewership growth during the lockdown due to a depressed ad market. The ad growth, however, came back for AVOD platforms just in time ahead of Diwali.

    This growth wouldn’t have been possible had the consumers in Tier-2 and Tier-3 cities not lapped up OTT content in a big way. The availability of low-cost mobile data and affordable smartphones has helped in the mass adoption of OTT platforms in these markets. 

    “OTT is no longer a metro-phenomenon. Thanks to cheap data plans, it has become the primary medium of entertainment for consumers across tier II and III cities,” a ZEE5 spokesperson said.

    While most of the OTT consumption happens on mobile, there has been an increase in OTT viewing on the big screen particularly in premium homes with multiple TV sets. The growth in viewing on the large screen is more pronounced in the case of SVOD platforms.

    This is happening thanks to devices like Amazon Fire TV, hybrid set-top boxes (STBs), and the launch of smart TVs that come pre-installed with streaming apps. 

    “2020 was a landmark year for OTT platforms. It speeded up the uptake of OTT on both AVOD and SVOD side helped by the fact that there was no fresh television content. The other trend is that a lot of exceptional original content came out this year. We are seeing consumption coming from smaller towns on SVOD which is a healthy sign,” said Viacom18 Senior EVP & Head: SVOD & International (Digital Ventures) + Youth, Music & English Brands (TV Networks) Ferzad Palia.

    For Palia, the biggest and the most important trend is the willingness among consumers to pay for content. “The larger trend is that India has emerged as a market where people are willing to pay for content. There is a long way to go but it has happened a lot quicker than most of us thought it would.”

    Eros Now CEO Ali Hussein said that the SVOD platform witnessed 2.5X growth in viewership on large screens between pre- lockdown and post-lockdown. He also said that there was a surge in consumption for both catalogue movies as well as regional content.

    Another key trend in 2020 was the entry of hyper-local OTT platforms like aha (Telugu), Koode (Malayalam), and City Shor TV (Gujarati). The Marathi OTT space will also see the entry of Planet Marathi and Letsflix.

    “The pandemic induced lockdown played a crucial role in scaling up content consumption in the OTT space. It has seen the industry understand the segment better through localised and relatable content. There is also an onset of aplenty homegrown single-language-centric regional platforms catering to local audiences,” said ALTBalaji CEO Nachiket Pantvaidya.

    Aha CEO Ajit Thakur said that the growth in OTT was driven by a mix of the emergence of new platforms across the country, some very aggressive marketing from the platforms and the arrival of big star content as well as some very good originals that gave the audience a lot to choose from.

    According to London-based technology research and consulting firm Omdia research, OTT players spent upwards of Rs 2000 crore ($300 million) on creating original content in 2020.

    Investment in originals is forecast by Omdia to grow sixfold and during 2021–25 will total Rs 30,000 crore ($4.2 billion). Around 45% of that investment will be spent by the US giants like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Disney+ Hotstar – with the major Indian OTT video services spending much of the remaining 55%.

    Impact of the pandemic on ad and subscription revenue

    According to a recent CII-BCG report, the number of paid OTT subscriptions was up by 55-60% to 100-125 million in 2020 from 49 million subscriptions in 2018.

    The ZEE5 spokesperson said that the streaming platforms upped their content and technology game and revamped their strategies to stay ahead of the competition. Filmmakers, the spokesperson stated, reworked their distribution strategies and opted for digital releases to cater to a wider set of audience.

    “Capitalising on this opportunity, advertisers also moved from traditional entertainment platforms and drifted towards OTT platforms to target audiences,” the spokesperson said.

    Speaking about the growth in ZEE5’s revenue, the spokesperson said that the ad and subscription revenues ramped up drastically this year. ZEE5’s revenue on the back of subscription has grown 2x.

    “While our average subscription witnessed a 3x increase compared to 2019, our active subscription grew 2.6x, and engagement recorded 1.3x growth compared to November 2019. The last quarter resulted in being the biggest quarter ever in terms of demand & revenue with almost 2x of last year and 75% bigger than the previous quarter.”

    Talking about Eros Now’s performance, Hussein said, “When we measure engagement whether it is viewers or repeat viewers, subscribers or time spent across various metrics we were up 70-100% between pre-lockdown vs post-lockdown. We added 6.9 million paid subscribers between April-September.”

    He further stated that monthly subscriptions have the highest share of voice but the growth is coming from quarterly subscriptions.

    Viacom18, which had launched SVOD platform Voot Select just before the lockdown, has seen strong uptake for its annual subscription packs, stated Palia.

    Pantvaidya said that ALTBalaji has witnessed strong growth not just in India but also in international markets.

    “With an average daily subscriber addition of 9000 in Q2FY21, increase in watch time, and engagement per consumer, ALTBalaji witnessed an incredible jump in viewership from Bharat. We also witnessed an uptick in international subscriptions along with a significant jump in watch-time by 2X in Q2 FY21 as compared to Q2 FY20,” he stated.

    ULLU Founder and CEO Vibhu Agarwal said that the downloads and subscriptions for all OTT platforms have shot up. “In the pandemic, whether it is AVOD or SVOD, both platforms got a great opportunity to grow and increase their business. The revenue growth of ULLU as a platform went for a major 220% jump from the previous years.”

    Content trends

    Pantvaidya said that 2020 saw the launch of some great web shows and platforms experimenting with new genres. He further stated that the audience mindset has drastically changed, with the desire to pay for quality content, as they invest their time in that content.

    “This change is bound to create large audience pools whether originals, movies, music, news, games, or sports across the entertainment industry,” he averred.

    For ALTBalaji, the best performing genres are crime and thrillers, young romance, and urban drama. On ZEE5, crime & thriller shows proved to be the most-watched content. Further, the viewership of Hindi and vernacular content increased even more.

    E-commerce giant Amazon’s OTT platform Prime Video witnessed strong growth in the average amount of content being viewed by Prime members, as well as a surge in first-time viewership & overall membership.  

    Buoyed by this growth, Prime Video is increasing its content spends in the Indian market. “Today, Prime Video in India has approximately 55 Amazon Original Series in various stages of development and 31 in various stages of production– the slate has been curated especially for Indian audiences.”

    Comedy was a runaway success for Amazon Prime Video. The platform expanded its comedy offerings with Comicstaan S2, Jestination Unknown, One Mic Stand, and the recently launched Comicstaan Semma Comedy Pa - the first Tamil Amazon Original Series offering.

    The platform forayed into the sports docu-series genre with the launch of ‘Sons of the Soil: Jaipur Pink Panthers’ and into live-sports with the acquisition of the rights for all New Zealand cricket for six seasons till 2025-2026.

    However, the most disruptive move of 2020 on OTT was the direct digital premiere of movies. With this single move, the OTT platforms threatened to upend the business model of cinema exhibitors.

    “We acquired 19 films across 5 languages to release directly on Amazon Prime Video as Direct to Streaming films,” the Prime Video spokesperson noted.

    Streaming giant Netflix stated that India has the highest viewing of films on the platform globally and over the last year, 80% of its members in India chose to watch a film every week. In 2020, Netflix also explored with non-fiction series and documentaries. Further, the viewing of kids’ titles increased more than 100% in India in 2020 over 2019.

    “As we bring in the new year, we want to continue to cater to our audience by building a robust slate of differentiated stories that are suited to the different moods of our members. At Netflix, we love to invest in original and licensed content, across genres and formats and have a very exciting line-up coming up in 2021,” a Netflix spokesperson said.

    “From our upcoming kids special, Mighty Little Bheem: Kite Festival that will take kids on an adventure to the film, Tribhanga: Tedhi Medhi Crazy, which will engage audiences in a multigenerational story of three incredible women. We are continuously working to create content that reflects more lives from all corners of our country, and develop a talent pipeline to give new voices a chance to be heard on screen.”

    Aha CEO Ajit Thakur said that thrillers and comedy continue to dominate the large share of the content offering. “Another trend that emerged in 2020 is that big star films came on to OTT Platforms across languages. Add to that, many theatrical films made their way to OTT.”

    2021 – Looking Ahead

    ALTBalaji’s Pantvaidya said that the SVOD platform is on track to become the first profitable OTT platform in the country.

    “2020 has also played a catalytic process in putting us on track to become the first profitable OTT platform, and we seek to break even and become a Rs 150 crore entity with at least 100 original shows by 2021,” he asserted.

    Eros Now’s Ali Hussein feels that three key trends will be visible in 2021.

    First, Indian originals will get audiences outside the South Asian diaspora because of the quality of shows. In 2021, one or two originals will travel beyond the traditional audience, Hussein said. Second, there will be innovations in technology to reach out to new users in low-bandwidth areas. Third, early adopters of OTT content will become cord-cutters.

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